It’s 10:30 on Christmas Eve. I keep trying not to dwell on the fact that this is now the sixth Christmas without my dad. It seems ridiculous that I should feel more sad today than on some random day like August 16th but holidays are time markers and thus have added meaning to events.
We catalog the passage of time in many ways. Birthdays, holidays, scars, reunions, anniversaries, monthly dinner gatherings, etc. Instead of just letting time march on quietly, we seem to need to mark it, note it, solidify it.
It’s more difficult to feel time passing in places like Phoenix and Oakland. The weather doesn’t change much – there is no winter-foretelling chill in the air come September leading into a complete change of wardrobe over the following few months. There is no bundling up to go out, and shaking off of snow before entering a home-made cozy against the frozen outdoors. There is no excitement when the icicles begin to melt and the glistening wetness drip drops off the roof for the first time in four months. It’s one long late spring here. The temperature changes, yes, but not enough to really demarcate the seasons.
Christmas shouldn’t even be a big deal to me. I’m Jewish, raised Unitarian by Agnostics.
And yet, my grandma and grandpa had a big tree each year which we ritualistically decorated at the direction of my mom. We went caroling with our neighbors and then sang songs next to the lit tree before snuggling into bed. I got a stocking, which to my young amazement, was always full by 4am with finger puppets and an orange. We had holly and white lights and ceramic angels on the mantle. We had wonder and excitement and imagination and the anticipation of opening packages which were wrapped around secrets and secured under a sweet smelling evergreen.
I rarely celebrated Christmas with my dad. When I would go to visit him, there was no tree. If we were at his folks’ house, we celebrated Hanukkah if it was late that year, otherwise, December 25th came and went with little notice except that I would return to my mom with a suitcase full of presents.
But the few occasions I do remember sharing this holiday with my pop were great. One year, when I was about 10 we were in New York with my grandparents. I missed having a tree, so my dad and I draped a green blanket over grandpa’s rocking chair, crafted some ornaments out of aluminum foil, placed some presents on the floor in front of it, and called it our tree. It was a wonderful tree.
Another year when I was 16 years old, we were in Oakland, California. Again, we had no tree and we didn’t have a green blanket or a rocking chair. It was a beautiful clear California night, around 50F. We decided to go out and see if we could see Santa flying around the stars, so we went and sat in the outdoor hot tub around eleven Christmas Eve. We didn’t see Santa, but it was a great way to spend the evening.
When someone you love dies, people keep telling you to remember the good times. But often, remembering anything related to them is painful. I suppose these are the kind of memories to which they are referring. It makes me sad to think about him, but I am so glad to have had those experiences. Not every kid gets to have a blanket tree.
I think I’m going to go try to find Santa Claus in the stars.
“A world in which time is absolute is a world of consolation. For while the movements of people are unpredictable, the movement of time is predictable… Each person knows that somewhere is recorded the moment she was born, the moment she took her first step, the moment of her first passion, the moment she said goodbye to her parents.”
“The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.
When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is “So it goes.”
(1969) by Kurt Vonnegut.